As the Terrapins football team filed out of Byrd Stadium more than a week ago after a 40-27 loss to then-No. 9 Clemson, it closed the second third of the season, a four-game stretch that dramatically altered the outlook on the team’s season.
After a 4-0 start, the Terps dropped three of their next four — including blowout losses at Florida State and Wake Forest — leaving the team still on the edge of bowl eligibility.
But after their second bye week, the Terps said they’ve reset and filed everything away. The final third of the season not only lends the team the opportunity to clinch a bowl appearance but also a better bowl, as each win the rest of the way could thrust them further up the postseason pecking order.
“Whenever I first came here, I saw we basically had three four-week seasons,” defensive end Zeke Riser said. “I didn’t know how it was going to play out exactly, but going from 4-0 to 1-3 the next section, I don’t think this bye week could come at a better time to kind of get us rejuvenated from the injuries we’ve had and stuff like that.”
After a generally healthy and undefeated first third of the season — the only key players to suffer significant injuries were cornerbacks Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle — injuries riddled the Terps through their past four games. Quarterback C.J. Brown started only two games in the stretch and didn’t finish either. The Terps took the field against Clemson without five key starters on offense.
But Brown is now healthy after a trunk injury sidelined him against the Tigers, and the Terps have the opportunity to start fresh Saturday against Syracuse.
“It came at a good time,” coach Randy Edsall said. “You’re fortunate. Usually you don’t get two byes in a season, but we did, so we tried to use it to get as healthy as we could, but then also take some time. We took time to practice some things that we need to get better at that we thought we’d have to do here in the stretch run as we get into the final third of the season.”
The Terps’ final third looks drastically different from the previous four games, too. No. 3 Florida State, No. 7 Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia have combined to post a 22-13 record. Down the stretch, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Boston College and N.C. State are a combined 17-16 with a 7-12 conference mark. The Hokies are the Terps’ lone remaining opponent with a winning record.
Bowl eligibility and the opportunity to move up in the ACC standings are there for the Terps. They know they just need to rebound from two consecutive losses and regain their early season form.
“The last four games we went 1-3,” Riser said. “So once you do get that break you’re like, ‘OK, now that section of the schedule is over.’ I think it gives us, like, a fresh start.”
The significance and placement of the two bye weeks isn’t lost on the Terps. In the past two years, they had to play eight and 11 games in a row to finish out their seasons.
The Terps now just look to string together a series of performances similar to those at the beginning of the season when they were rolling through opponents. The conference slate is still difficult, but the Terps can clinch bowl eligibility and elevate themselves in the conference.
They’re set up for it.
“Having three four-game seasons, I think it’s ideal,” Brown said. “Being our last year in the ACC, to look at it, I think they helped us out a little bit — which is surprising — but to have three four-game seasons, play four, have a bye week, play another four, have a bye, it’s set us up well.”